Wednesday, November 24, 2010

contingent faculty of a different kind

I learnt an Interesting Fact today, at a departmental staff meeting of all places (yes, it was a surprise to me, too).

Apparently in my Faculty, which has about 8 departments, only one person at department head level or higher is actually appointed to the role. Everyone else is 'temporary, acting'. Even the Dean. The Powers That Be, the Senior Management, haven't managed to recruit anyone from the current academic faculty to take on the role... I guess this says something about leadership in my University. As in, no one wants to actually stick their head up above the parapet and lead.

No, I have NO intention of ever doing one of those jobs myself. And clearly everyone else agrees with me...


  1. I am an interim chair, until recently under an interim dean, who himself was under an interim provost.

  2. Even 10-15 years ago, when I was doing both The Job Search (for tt or at least full-time jobs) and searching for adjunct work (a situation which often involves some surprisingly frank exchanges -- more so than the formal courtship process of The Job Search), I met an awful lot of self-described "reluctant chairs." With good reason -- it is, frankly, a thankless task performed under increasingly difficult conditions. I wouldn't seek it out myself, and, if I were ever in a position to take it on out of duty (which seems highly unlikely at this point), I would do so with considerable fear and trepidation, and with a primary goal of not letting the situation get worse (which I'm sure any leadership guru would tell me is exactly the wrong attitude, but may be a realistic one).

    The reluctance of your faculty to take on such jobs may actually be a sign of strength -- not too many fools rushing in where angels fear to tread (this said with genuine respect for those who decide, with open eyes and full understanding of the situation, to do their best despite difficult conditions; taking a chance on being a fool in service of the greater good =/= "rushing in"). On the other hand, it definitely suggests something is broken, in the governing structure of the university, in the sense of community, or both.

  3. I had a very funny conversation in the adjunct office the other day. It went something like this:

    Officemate: "So you adjunct in crayon studies? You are under X then?"

    Me: "Nope, never met X. X has been on leave for years."

    Mate: "Oh, then Y?"

    Me: "Well Y hired me but Y is no longer acting department head, Y is acting Dean of Something-or-other."

    Officemate: "Wait, I thought Y was acting Dean of Doodle-do."

    Me: "No, Y was acting Dean of Doodle-do last year AND acting Department head. This year Y is just acting dean of Something-or-other."

    Mate: "So who's your boss now?"

    Me frowning, trying to remember: "Z?"

    Mate: "Z can't be acting head of crayon studies. Z is a basketweaving instructor."

    Me: "I think crayon studies and basketweaving are in the same department this year."

    Mate: "But basketweaving was with textile studies last year."

    Me: "I know. I think there was a restructuring, when they made crayon studies switch into the other building."

    Mate: "Oh. So who do you contact if you need someone?"

    Me (with confidence): "A, the departmental administrative assistant."

    Mate: "But didn't they change A's title and position? They did move her across campus."

    Me (hesitantly): "I think she's the administrator for dog and cat studies now. But she still answers my questions."

    Mate: "Oh, well maybe I'll just contact A too. Because I was looking for B, but B is no longer in the staff directory."

    Me: "Oh, B got fired. Something about a restructuring. And gross incompetance. A's a good bet."

    Mate: "Huh."

    Me: "Yup."

  4. I once had a good department chairman.


  5. I really like my department chair but they are about to retire. One of my colleagues joked that we are next in line by seniority. True, except he's a yearly term position and I'm just an adjunct. So the new chair will be somebody in the "other half" of the department who did the job before. I've only met them once but have heard good things. (fingers crossed).

  6. How many universities have an Interim President? That's right, few to none. Having all the other higher-administrator positions therefore gives more power to the president, to run the university any way he or she wants.

    Treasure the good administrators, they sure are rare!

  7. Folks, don't avoid taking admin jobs. They pay better, and if none of the good people take them, the bad people will. I served as Chair of the Department of Physics, and I had a blast: I got lots of excellent SHOUTING in. ("RESISTANCE IS USELESS!!!!!") It was very therapeutic, for me at least. Don't worry, no one GOT it who didn't richly deserve it. Jokes aside too, I actually did surprisingly little shouting: I found I could get my way quite often by being nice to people. I wish more administrators would realize that.

  8. @Froderick Fankenstien from Fresno
    So you turned the 10Kw spotting laser into the "Goldfinger" human-splitter?

    Seriously, I have to agree about "honey attracts flies better than vinegar" thing; I think we get these wannabe Il Duce bosses because nobody trains for that sort of role in academia.

  9. My department has always practiced the "first penguin" method of chair selection. That is, about the time that the current chair's term is about up, we start looking at each other nervously, huddling together in the halls in small conversational knots, glancing over our shoulders. And we all shoulder more and more closely together towards the edge of the ice floe, until suddenly with a faint cry and a splash the chosen victim is gone, over the edge and down into the inky cold depths of chairship. We thank the victim (when he/she resurfaces) profusely for their service and hustle back to our offices to hide for the next five years, devoutly relieved that we're not the one in the water.

    The trick to this is that the victim should not KNOW they are the chosen victim; because if they did, they would not stand so close to the edge.

  10. @Strelnikov (re Goldfinger laser): Heck no, our t-t faculty needed that laser for their research, and making sure our t-t faculty had what they needed (including as much time off as could be spared, for balance) was among my highest priorities. A chain saw is cheaper to operate, works just as well, and is far more satisfying.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.